When Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, many of the so-called “Dreamers” — who were protected from deportation by an Obama-era policy — knew their days in the U.S. might be numbered.
But until September of last year, some Dreamers said they lived in perpetual fear as Trump flip-flopped between saying he would protect them and reiterating his desire to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program protecting 700,000 individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as minors from being sent back to a country they barely remembered.
On Sept. 5, six months ago, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement confirming a worst fear of DACA recipients — the federal government would be killing the program.
“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” Sessions said during the announcement.
Immediately, DACA recipients scrambled to submit their $500 renewal applications because the federal government said they would stop accepting applications after Oct. 5. After that, all they could do was wait and hope Congress would pass its own version of the program before March 5, the deadline Trump gave for when the executive order creating the program would be rescinded.
March 5 has come and gone, but DACA cannot be shut down just yet. DACA has been saved, at least temporarily, by the federal courts.
“It’s a very stressful moment because yes it’s a relief (that DACA was temporarily preserved), but it’s also like ‘Okay, what are you going to do next?’” said Daniela, a DACA recipient and Latin-American studies sophomore. “We can’t keep going in this process, and life is not a political game.”
Lawsuits filed by four states and Janet Napolitano, University of California president, halted Trump’s decision after federal judge William Alsup temporarily blocked the president from ending the program while litigation moved forward.
In his ruling, Alsup wrote that the plaintiffs in the case had shown a likelihood of success in winning on their claim that DACA’s rescission was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise in accordance with law.”
Alsup also declared that renewal applications for DACA have to be accepted, but new applications do not.
In mid-February, just weeks before the March 5 deadline, the U.S. Senate finally moved its focus to writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan was to write the bill directly on the Senate floor, but negotiations collapsed after four proposals were killed in less than a week.
Elissa Steglich, a law professor for UT’s immigration clinic, said she is unsurprised that the immigration reform bill failed to even reach a vote.
“Immigration policy has always been schizophrenic,” Steglich said. “Unless there is the political will to push through something piecemeal, we will not see any movement on immigration issues.”
The House, which also moved on from budget discussions, never even opened debate on immigration reform.
Kevin, a DACA recipient and international relations and global studies sophomore, said he feels like the federal government keeps getting distracted by other issues.
“There’s so many of us, and we’re all frightened,” Kevin said. “We want an answer, but we’re the least of their problems right now. (Lawmakers) are like ‘Just push it back, it’s just the DACA kids.’”
Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an unusual request by the Justice Department to review DACA before the lower courts, delaying any court decisions on the program for several more months. Now, the ruling will make its way normally through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then onto the Supreme Court if necessary.
Despite the temporary preservation of the program and the reopening of the renewal process for DACA recipients, Steglich said those who didn’t renew or whose applications have not been processed will lose their protected status after March 5. Before September’s announcement, applications for DACA often took at least five months to be processed. Recently, Steglich said it has taken even longer for many applicants.
Yanelly, a DACA recipient and former UT student, transferred to UT Rio Grande Valley after last semester because she feared for her ability to return home to Brownsville without DACA, as the city lies within a border checkpoint. Yanelly said she was lucky because the January court ruling allowed her to renew her status for another two years.
“(The ruling) did take some of the worry that a lot of us were feeling, but it’s still pending,” said Yanelly. “It’s not like the conflict was solved or anything. They just prolonged the worry we have to feel about what’s going to happen.”